How could salvation come to the historical patriarchs in the Bible and to the Jews who lived before Jesus came, since none of them could follow the law completely?

Email Received:

Many of the historical patriarchs such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, died before Jesus was born. I know they were under the law. How were they saved? How were Jews saved before Jesus if they could not follow the law completely? Do you think Jews who don't believe in Jesus don't go to heaven? What happens to people in this world that have never heard about Jesus when they die?

Ted's Response:

I know for absolute certain that the ultimate Judge has all of these things under His control, in total fairness and impartiality. I know that all whom God has chosen to be saved will be saved, and those He has not chosen will not.

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Israel) saw and spoke with the Angel of the Lord, and Joseph knew of Him from his father Jacob's testimony. I firmly believe that the Angel of the Lord was a pre-incarnate form of Jesus, so these men (and many others in the Tanakh or Old Testament) knew of their Messiah.

All of these men had personal relationships with God, they knew that they were sinners, and they knew that only God could redeem them from their sins. I believe that the first step to salvation is understanding that we have sinned and transgressed against God, then acknowledging that we need a mediator to plead our case before God the Father.

Job, for instance, repented in dust and ashes (Job 42:6). He knew that, one day, he would see his Redeemer when He stands upon the earth (19:25).

Jesus said, "Before Abraham was, I Am" (John 8:58). Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and countless others knew of Him, even if they did not know that He would be born of a virgin and walk on the earth as a man.

Abraham believed God, and it was credited to Him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6). Abraham, and all the rest, believed in and trusted the one, true God. Their faith saved themóbecause it is by our faith that we are savedóand faith in Him is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit given by God (Ephesians 2:8) to those whom He has chosen for eternal life.

I believe that there were countless Jews and others, prior to Jesus' appearance as a man, who had faith in God, humbled themselves before Him, and understood their need for a mediator between them and God. As far as I am concerned, all of them were in the same boat with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Unfortunately, there are many who will not go to heaven when they die. Many have hardened their hearts against God, even to the point of rejecting His existence. Furthermore, since they do not see themselves as "bad people" or sinners, they do not acknowledge that they need a Redeemer.

However, I do not necessarily think that a disbelief in Jesus as Messiah, by many Jews, will keep them out of heaven. For instance, many of them have had misconceptions about Jesus all of their lives because that is all they've heard and known. But that does not preclude many of them from understanding and believing, in their hearts, that their Messiah, whoever He may be, is the mediator between them and God. I have heard the testimonies of too many Jews (many of them on God's Learning Channel) who have said that, in an instant, God gave them the gift of faith in Jesus as Messiah and they knew they were saved from that point forward.

Today, I feel that God has instilled within millions, who live in places where they are unable to hear about Jesus, the humility to know that they are sinners, to know that there is a Creator (Romans 1:20), and to know that they have fallen short of His perfect standards. I've heard missionaries say that they have come into contact with people in third-world countries who feel this way.

Even if missionaries never reach such people, I know that our fair and just God sees their hearts. I feel that He knows they would accept their Lord and Christ, if they knew of Him. It was He who put them in places where they could not hear firsthand about Jesus and His sacrifice for them on the cross, and it is not beyond His capability to instill supernaturally, into their minds and hearts, the knowledge that they require a Savior, even if they do not know Him by name.

I know that many Christian pastors will insist that if someone dies without having heard the gospel message about Jesus, they cannot go to heaven and will be lost forever. Personally, I suspect that God will save many after they die, when they will be given the knowledge about Jesus Christ being the Son of God and the Savior of sinners, and they will accept Him willingly and joyfully.

Actually, I believe that all people receive this knowledge after they die, although many will continue to reject Him and be lost, preferring to be their own gods and in control of their own destinies. After all, Satan and all the evil angels and demons are fully aware of whom Jesus is. They all have rejected Him, and they always will do so, forever.

At the Great White Throne Judgment, the book of life will be opened, among other books, and those before the throne will be judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books (Revelation 20:11,12). Although those whose names are not written in the book of life will be thrown into the lake of fire (20:15), I leave open the possibility that others, after death, will have chosen to accept Jesus and His blood atonement for their sins and will be found written in the book of life, enabling them to avoid the lake of fire and receive eternal life.

Thus, I have contemplated those who never heard about Jesus in life but who would have welcomed Him into their lives gladly, had they known of Him. I know that many would disagree with me; but I feel that after these people die, it is very possible that they immediately will know of the One that they would have embraced in life, has they known Him. If so, it would seem that their souls would be ecstatic to learn of Him and to see Him after their physical deaths, and it is difficult for me to imagine that our just and righteous God would reject them forever simply because they did not know about Jesus during their mortal lifetimes.

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